In present practice the Marriage rites of the Orthodox Church comprise two
services that are celebrated together, that of Betrothal, or the exchange of rings, and
that of Crowning, or the marriage itself. Originally these were quite distinct services,
separated in time by months, or even years.
It is usual nowadays for marriages to be celebrated outside the Divine Liturgy,
although originally Crowning took place in the course of the Eucharist, and this is still
sometimes done in contemporary use. It is generally thought that the Common
Cup, which the Bride and Groom drink from at the end of the ceremony, is a survival
of the original setting in the Liturgy. This is not certain, however, and a rubric in the
tenth century Euchologion from Grottaferrata, G.b.VII, suggests otherwise. It runs, And he [the priest] makes them partake of the
life-giving communion, and having taken a cup of wine and blessed it with the sign of the
Cross, he says the following Prayer of the Common Cup, i.e. the one in the
There are numerous local customs surrounding weddings that are not mentioned in
the official texts, some of which are extremely interesting, some of which would be better
abandoned, or confined to the secular celebrations following the service in church. None
of these is given here.
The translation published here has been made from the current Greek text, from
which the Slavonic differs little, most notably in the provision of a formal questioning
of the couple as to their freedom and intent at the beginning of the service.
There is a number of problems of translation in these texts, some of which are
listed here, in order not to clutter the translation with footnotes.
- At the beginning of the rite of Crowning the older rubric simply says, If they wish to be crowned on the same occasion, they enter the Church
with lighted candles. The Priest goes ahead with the censer singing the Psalm as follows.
This suggests that, as one would expect, the Betrothal should take place in the narthex
and not in the body of the church.
- It is worth noting that in a number of places, particularly where the reference is
to Genesis 2 and 3, the Greek word anthropos is used to refer to the man, and
is not gender inclusive.
- I use wedlock in the first prayer of the Crowning for
syzygia, since the Greek word suggests marriage and the number of English
words for uniting is somewhat limited.
- The Greek words gynę and aner present difficulties
for the translator, since they mean both man and husband, and
woman and wife. In the citation from Genesis 2,23 the play
in Hebrew on ish, man and ishah, woman
cannot be reproduced in Greek, but is possible in Latin by the use of vir and
virago, and in English, though in the latter the idea of husband
and wife is obscured.
- The formulae for the actual exchange of rings and for the crowning present
problems. In each case the verb is Middle or Passive in form and is followed by the
accusative. The latter fact makes it unlikely that the verbs are passive, unless one
assumes that the accusatives are very peculiar accusatives of respect. The
verb arravonizomai, which is not classical, is deponent and means to
give a pledge, or guarantee. This makes perfectly good sense, like the
archaic English, to plight ones troth. The verb is used as a passive
with the sense of receive a pledge. It does not, however, mean is
betrothed. On the other hand the verb stepho, which is used
predominantly in poetry in the classical language, does have an active form and means
to wreathe, or crown, and the fact that here it has a direct
object suggests that it is Middle rather than Passive. Indeed it would be an almost
classical use of the Middle. The tendency for English versions of these rites to use
passives stems, I suspect, by false analogy from the formula for Baptism, where, it is
worth pointing out, the verb is a true passive, with no direct object. It is also worth
noting that the formula of Crowning is later than that for Betrothal, and in the earlier
forms of the rite most frequently took the form of appropriate verses from the Psalms.
- In the final prayer there are two points worth noting. 1. The word translated
life-creating is not zoopoios but zoarchikos, which
does therefore mean source/origin of life and hence may legitimately be
rendered life-creating. 2. Since the Greek word basileia refers to
the Holy Trinity it can hardly be translated Kingdom. Like its Hebrew
counterpart, the Greek is both less concrete and at the same time wider in its reference
than the English kingdom, and should often be translated by
kingship or by a similar word.
- The Prayer for the Untying of Crowns presents a number of problems. In Greek the
only finite verb is in the 1st person plural, which means that the three participles that
precede it cannot refer to the newly married couple, but rather to the priest [and
people]. The Slavonic, however, has the verb in the 3rd person. Your servants
then must refer to the couple. The meaning of the third phrase is not clear. Since the
first two participles are aorist and the third present, it seems that this phrase refers
to the present ceremony. Both the Greek and Slavonic verbs convey the idea of
removing, though none of the senses given for the former in either Liddell and
Scott or Lampe seems to be precisely apposite, and I think that the reference must be to
the removal of the crowns.
At the end of the rite of Crowning will be found the
short rite for the Untying of Crowns, the rite for a Subsequent Marriage and that for
Renewing a Marriage, after divorce.